Colts' Young Receiving Duo Gaining Trust, Comfort in Offense
INDIANAPOLIS – Already familiar with Reggie Wayne, opponents are quickly learning the names of the Colts' other wide receivers, too.
On Sunday night, in the third game of the season, the Colts' young receiving tandem of Austin Collie and Pierre Garcon produced the best performances of their short careers. The two players combined for more than a quarter of team's 505 total yards of offense and spaced the field well enough to keep Arizona's defense from routinely double-teaming the team's top two aerial targets, Wayne and tight end Dallas Clark.
After working with the two receivers throughout training camp and the preseason, quarterback Peyton Manning said he is growing more and more comfortable with the duo as time progresses.
And with comfort, comes trust.
With both in the starting line-up against the Cardinals on Sunday, Manning targeted Collie or Garcon at least once in nine of Indianapolis' 13 offensive drives.
Even better, the receivers gave Manning good reason to keep throwing to them.
Collie, a 2009 fourth-round draft pick out of Brigham Young, caught three passes for 47 yards, all coming in the first half.
Garcon, in his second season with the Colts and starting the last two games with Anthony Gonzalez sidelined with a knee injury he suffered in Week 1, reeled in three receptions for 64 yards, highlighted by a 53-yard touchdown in the second quarter to give the Colts a 21-3 lead just before halftime.
"They work extremely hard," Colts Head Coach Jim Caldwell said. "They are skilled individuals that can run and catch, and (they) keep getting better all the time."
Faced with the tall task of replacing Marvin Harrison, the franchise's all-time leading receiver, and Gonzalez, the Colts seem to have uncovered two receivers perfect for their system.
"I think you can attribute that to our personnel department," Caldwell said. "They do a great job of finding talent and getting them in place to make certain we can continue to be productive, (and) I think those two guys are an example of that.
"Pierre has been with us two years now and has learned the system and is operating in it pretty well, and Austin is doing the same thing," the Colts coach said.
One reason Manning said he is clicking with the new wide receivers is practice.
"We certainly hope to get (Gonzalez) back real soon, but when there is an injured player, you do get more repetitions with (the replacement)," Manning said. "I have gotten more reps with Pierre, and feel like we have pretty good timing. I have a pretty good feel for where he's going to be."
That comfort was evident in Week 2 against Miami. With the Colts trailing late in the fourth quarter, Manning called for an audible at the line of scrimmage and switched to a wide receiver screen to Garcon, who had yet to catch a pass all game.
Garcon took the quick pass, eluded a few Dolphins defenders, and sprinted 48 yards into the end zone for the game-winning score.
On Sunday, Manning and Garcon were at it again. This time, with 1:52 left in the second quarter, Manning took advantage of Garcon's breakaway speed and hit the second-year player out of Mount Union, a Division III school, with a 53-yard touchdown pass down the right sideline.
"His speed is a weapon. And when you can get down the field, you get (cornerbacks who) start backing up, then you can hit him on short passes," Manning said. "As you can see, he's really good with the ball after the catch. He's trying to score and is a physical receiver, (now) we've just got to keep building."
The Colts' rushing attack, which gained 126 yards on Sunday and was aided by a 17-yard reverse from Garcon, kept Arizona's defense honest and allowed the Colts' receivers to get open downfield, according to Manning.
"We could mix in some first-and-10 runs, some drop backs and some play-actions, it just felt like we were running our offense," he said.
Now, Caldwell said, the challenge for the Colts' young wide receivers is to build on their strong performances in Week 3 and continue to get better.
"It is getting a little better every week," Garcon said. "The communication and the trust is getting there, but it takes time. But it is getting better, so that's the good thing about it."